When you call an 800 number, you don’t mind being put on hold. It’s not your dime. But if you’re like me, when you call a toll number to get help from a hardware vendor, you don’t want to be kept on hold—you want to get your question asked and answered in the shortest time possible.

Recently, one of my TechRepublic colleagues told me about a bad experience he had calling a major hardware vendor. I wanted to share the story with you as a reminder to every company that provides toll-call telephone support: Get it right or kiss your customers au revoir.

“Sir, I have to stick to my script”
Here’s what happened. My colleague, one of the Web development engineers for TechRepublic, called a major hardware vendor about the scanner he bought from them. According to my friend, he scanned 10 pictures or so, and the scanner started making a grinding noise.

Since it was still under warranty, he called the vendor, returned the scanner, and they repaired and returned it. He scanned a few more pictures, and the device seemed to be working fine.

Just a month after the warranty expired (naturally), the scanner started making a grinding sound again. He called the vendor on a toll number and was on hold for 15 minutes. When he finally got through to a customer service representative, she started leading him the normal routine—power it off and back on, go through Add/Remove and reinstall it. At one point, my friend said, “I’m a computer programmer, ma’am, and I’ve already tried these things.”

The vendor employee replied, “Please don’t interrupt me, sir, I have to go through my script.” My friend was livid. “I’ve only scanned a total of about 25 pictures on this scanner. It shouldn’t be breaking down so soon.” She replied, “I know sir, but I have to go through my checklist.”

Customer satisfaction, finally
To cut to the chase, the customer service representative finally gave my colleague another long-distance number to call. The person at that number offered to upgrade my colleague’s scanner to the next model. “We’ve had quite a few problems with that model, and we don’t make it anymore. How do you want to pay for the upgrade?”

Paying for the upgrade was not what my friend had in mind. He’s into the long-distance call for about 45 minutes at this point, and the customer representative said, “I’m going to contact the home office and recommend that they upgrade you for free.” Then she gave him yet ANOTHER long-distance phone number and said, “If you haven’t heard from the home office by Friday, you’ll need to call them.”

The good news is that my colleague didn’t have to make another long-distance call. The “home office” called and said, “We’re sending you the new scanner, and it’s going to come with a 12-month warranty. However, there will be no extensions on that warranty—this is it.”

It was at that point that my colleague, normally calm and collected, freaked out. His feeling was that the person from the “home office” could have stopped after mentioning the 12-month warranty. She didn’t have to needle him about how “that was it” on the warranty. He decided then and there never to buy another product from that vendor.
People don’t like to be treated poorly on the phone, especially when they’re paying for the call. If you’d like to share your experiences with nasty “customer service” representatives—or your tips for training telephone operators—please post a comment below or send us a note.